Sibudu Cave

Sibudu Cave is a rock shelter in a sandstone cliff in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.[1] It is an important Middle Stone Age site occupied, with some gaps, from 77,000 years ago to 38,000 years ago.

Evidence of some of the earliest examples of modern human technology has been found in the shelter (although the earliest known spears date back 400,000 years). The evidence in the shelter includes the earliest bone arrow (61,000 years old),[2] the earliest needle (61,000 years old),[2] the earliest use of heat-treated mixed compound gluing (72,000 years ago),[2] and the earliest example of the use of bedding (77,000 years ago).[3]

The use of glues and bedding are of particular interest, because the complexity of their creation and processing has been presented as evidence of continuity between early human cognition and that of modern humans.[3][4][5]

Sibudu Cave
Map showing the location of Sibudu Cave
Map showing the location of Sibudu Cave
Sibudu Cave
LocationTongaat, KwaZulu-Natal
Coordinates29°31′21.5″S 31°05′09.2″E / 29.522639°S 31.085889°ECoordinates: 29°31′21.5″S 31°05′09.2″E / 29.522639°S 31.085889°E


Sibudu Cave is a rock shelter, located roughly 40 km (25 mi) north of the city of Durban and about 15 km (9 mi) inland, near the town of Tongaat. It is in a steep, forested cliff facing WSW that overlooks the Tongati River in an area that is now a sugar cane plantation. The shelter was formed by erosional downcutting of the Tongati River, which now lies 10 m (33 ft) below the shelter. Its floor is 55 m (180 ft) long, and about 18 m (59 ft) in width.[1] It has a large collection of Middle Stone Age deposits that are well preserved organically and accurately dated using optically stimulated luminescence.[1]

The first excavations following its discovery in 1983 were carried out by Aron Mazel of the Natal Museum (unpublished work).[6] Lyn Wadley of the University of the Witwatersrand started renewed excavations in September 1998.


The occupations at Sibudu are divided into pre-Still Bay, Still Bay (72,000–71,000 BP), Howiesons Poort (before 61,000 BP), post-Howiesons Poort (58,500 BP), late (47,700 BP), and final Middle Stone Age phases (38,600 BP). There were occupation gaps of approximately 10,000 years between the post-Howiesons Poort and the late Middle Stone Age stage, and the late and final Middle Stone periods. There was no Late Stone Age occupation, although there was a 1,000 BP Iron Age occupation.

Evidence suggests these were dry periods and the shelter was occupied only during wet climatic conditions.[7]


The pre-Still Bay occupation had a lithic flake-based industry and made few tools. The Still Bay occupation, in addition to such flakes, made bifacial tools and points .[8] Trace use analysis on the tips of the points finds evidence of compound adhesives on their bases where they would once have been hafted to shafts.[9]

Various examples of early human technology have been found:

  • A bone point, a possible arrowhead that pushes back the origin of bow and bone arrow technology to 61,000 BP, at least 20,000 years beyond the previous earliest example;[2]
  • The earliest known bone needle, dated to 61,000 BP, with wear similar to that found in bone needles used to puncture animal hide;[2]
  • The earliest example of a compound glue (plant gum and red ochre), used for hafting stone points into wood handles to create spears—-dated no later than 71,000 BP;[2] and
  • Shell beads, although of a more recent date than those found at Blombos cave (71,000 BP for the Sibudu beads, versus 75,000 BP for those at Blombos);[10][11]
  • The earliest example of the use of bedding, dating back to approximately 77,000 years ago, 50,000 years earlier than records elsewhere else;[3]
  • The earliest use of milk (casein) as a paint binder in a milk-ochre mixture (49,000 BP).[12]
  • Dried fruits, carbonized-uncarbonized seeds (uncarbonized seeds consist of Antidesma venosum, Croton sylvaticus, Bridelia micrantha and many others) and nuts was revealed at Sibudu Cave belong to Middle Stone Age more than 60 ka ago to approximately 37 ka ago.[13]

The plant bedding consisted of sedge and other monocotyledons topped with aromatic leaves containing natural insecticidal and larvicidal chemicals. The leaves were all from Cryptocarya woodii Engl. which, when crushed, are aromatic and contain traces of α-pyrones, cryptofolione, and goniothalamin, chemicals that have insecticidal and larvicidal properties against, for example, mosquitoes. Cryptocarya species are still used extensively as traditional medicines.

Howiesons Poort occupation manufactured blade tools. These blades are shaped like the segment of an orange, with a sharp cutting edge on the straight lateral and an intentionally blunted and curved back. These were attached to shafts or handles by means of ochre and plant adhesive or alternatively fat mixed with plant material.[4] Segments often were made with a cutting edge along their entire length, which requires that they be attached to their hafts without twine and so, calls for particularly strong adhesive glue.[14]

Points were used in the period after the Howiesons Poort for hunting weapons, such as the tips of spears. Use–trace analysis suggests that many of these points were hafted with ochre-loaded adhesives.[14]

Cognitive archaeology

The replication of shafted tool manufacture using only methods and materials available at Sibudu, has enabled the identification of the complexity of the thought processes that it required. The stone spear was embedded in the wood using a compound adhesive made up of plant gum, red ochre, and to aid the workability, possibly a small amount of beeswax, coarse particles, or fat.[4] This preliminary mixture had to have the correct ingredient proportions and then, before shafting, undergo a controlled heat treatment stage. This heating had to avoid boiling or dehydrating the mixture too much, otherwise it would weaken the resulting mastic. The maker also had to reduce its acidity. By experimentally recreating the creation of this adhesive, researchers concluded that the Middle Stone Age (MSA) humans at Sibudu would have required the multilevel mental operations and abstract thought capabilities of modern people to do this.[4][5]

Artisans living in the MSA must have been able to think in abstract terms about properties of plant gums and natural iron products, even though they lacked empirical means for gauging them. Qualities of gum, such as wet, sticky, and viscous, were mentally abstracted, and these meanings counterpoised against ochre properties, such as dry, loose, and dehydrating. Simultaneously, the artisan had to think about the correct position for placing stone inserts on the shafts.... Although fully modern behaviour is recognizable relatively late in the MSA, the circumstantial evidence provided here implies that people who made compound adhesives in the MSA shared at least some advanced behaviors with their modern successors.[4]p. 9593.

In a commentary upon this research it has been suggested that instead of focusing upon language, with

activities that tax reasoning ability and are also visible archaeologically, such as shafting, archaeologists are in a better position to contribute to an understanding of the evolution of the modern mind.[5]p. 9545.

Some of these hafted points might have been launched from bows. While "most attributes such as micro-residue distribution patterns and micro-wear will develop similarly on points used to tip spears, darts or arrows" and "explicit tests for distinctions between thrown spears and projected arrows have not yet been conducted" the researchers find "contextual support" for the use of these points on arrows: a broad range of animals were hunted, with an emphasis on taxa that prefer closed forested niches, including fast moving, terrestrial and arboreal animals. This is an argument for the use of traps, perhaps including snares. If snares were used, the use of cords and knots, which also would have been adequate for the production of bows, is implied. The employment of snares also would demonstrate a practical understanding of the latent energy stored in bent branches, the main principle of bow construction.[15]

The use of Cryptocarya leaves in bedding indicates that early use of herbal medicines may have awarded selective advantages to humans, and the use of such plants implies a new dimension to the behaviour of early humans at this time.[3]

Interrupted technological development

Artifacts such as piecing needles, arrows, and shell beads [10] at Sibudu and elsewhere occur in a pattern whereby innovations are not further and progressively developed, but arise and then disappear. For instance, the shell beads occur in the Still Bay layers, but are absent from the Howiesons Poort ones, in Sibudu and elsewhere.[10] This challenges the idea that the early development of technology by early humans was a process of accumulation of improvements.[2][10] In discussing the findings of artefacts at Sibudu researchers have commented that they:

can hardly be used to support the "classic" out of Africa scenario, which predicts increasing complexity and accretion of innovations during the MSA, determined by biological change. Instead, they appear, disappear, and re-appear in a way that best fits a scenario in which historical contingencies and environmental, rather than cognitive, changes are seen as main drivers.[2]p. 1577.

The idea that environmental change was responsible for this pattern has been questioned, and instead it has been suggested that the driving factors were changes in the social networks related to changes in population density.[16]

Tentative World Heritage Status

In 2015, the South African government submitted a proposal to add the cave to the list of World Heritage Sites and it has been placed on the UNESCO list of tentative sites as a potential future 'serial nomination' together with Blombos Cave, Pinnacle Point, Klasies River Caves, Border Cave and Diepkloof Rock Shelter.[17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Wadley L, Jacobs Z. (2004). Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal: Background to the excavations of middle stone age and iron age occupations. South African Journal of Science, 100: 145–151 abstract
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Backwell L, d'Errico F, Wadley L.(2008). Middle Stone Age bone tools from the Howiesons Poort layers, Sibudu Cave, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35:1566–1580. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2007.11.006
  3. ^ a b c d Wadley L, Sievers C, Bamford M, Goldberg P, Berna F, Miller C. (2011). Middle Stone Age Bedding Construction and Settlement Patterns at Sibudu, South Africa. Science 9 December 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6061 pp. 1388–1391
  4. ^ a b c d e Wadley L, Hodgskiss T, Grant M. (2009). Implications for complex cognition from the hafting of tools with compound adhesives in the Middle Stone Age, South Africa. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 106:9590–9594 doi:10.1073/pnas.0900957106 PMID 19433786
  5. ^ a b c Wynn T. (2009). Hafted spears and the archaeology of mind.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 106:9544–9545 PMID 19506246
  6. ^ Wadley L. (2001).[Excavations at Sibudu Cave, Kwazulu-Natal, The Digging Stick, 18, Dec, (3) 1–7.
  7. ^ Jacobs Z, Wintle AG, Duller GAT, Roberts RG, Wadley L.(2008). New ages for the post-Howiesons Poort, late and final Middle Stone Age at Sibudu, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35: 1790–1807. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2008.04.017
  8. ^ Wadley L. (2007). Announcing a Still Bay industry at Sibudu Cave, South Africa. J Hum Evol. Jun;52(6):681-9. PMID 17337038
  9. ^ Lombard M. (2006) First impressions on the functions and hafting technology of Still Bay pointed artefacts from Sibudu Cave. S Afr Hum 18:27–41. abstract
  10. ^ a b c d d'Errico F, Vanhaeren M, Wadley L. (2008). Possible shell beads from the Middle Stone Age layers of Sibudu Cave, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35: 2675–2685. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2008.04.023
  11. ^ d'Errico F, Henshilwood C, Vanhaeren M, van Niekerk K. (2005). Nassarius kraussianus shell beads from Blombos Cave: evidence for symbolic behaviour in the Middle Stone Age. J Hum Evol. 48(1):3–24. PMID 15656934
  12. ^ Villa, Paola; et al. (30 June 2015). "A Milk and Ochre Paint Mixture Used 49,000 Years Ago at Sibudu, South Africa". PLOS One. 10 (6): e0131273. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131273. PMC 4488428. PMID 26125562.
  13. ^ Sievers, Christine (2006). "Seeds from the Middle Stone Age layers at Sibudu Cave". Southern African Humanities. 18 (1): 203–222. hdl:10520/EJC84764. ISSN 1681-5564.
  14. ^ a b Wadley L, Hodgkiss T, Grant M. (2009). Supporting Information for Implications for complex cognition from the hafting of tools with compound adhesives in the Middle Stone Age, South Africa Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 106:9590–9594 doi:10.1073/pnas.0900957106 PMID 19433786 Supplementary Information Text
  15. ^ Marlize Lombard and Laurel Phillipson. (2010). Antiquity Vol 84:325, 2010 pp 635–648 Indications of bow and stone-tipped arrow use 64 000 years ago in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
  16. ^ Jacobs Z, Roberts RG. (2009). Catalysts for Stone Age innovations: What might have triggered two short-lived bursts of technological and behavioral innovation in southern Africa during the Middle Stone Age? Commun Integr Biol. 2(2):191-3. PMID 19513276
  17. ^ "The Emergence of Modern Humans: The Pleistocene occupation sites of South Africa". UNESCO. Retrieved 3 April 2015.

External links

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Behavioral modernity

Behavioral modernity is a suite of behavioral and cognitive traits that distinguishes current Homo sapiens from other anatomically modern humans, hominins, and primates. Although often debated, most scholars agree that modern human behavior can be characterized by abstract thinking, planning depth, symbolic behavior (e.g., art, ornamentation), music and dance, exploitation of large game, and blade technology, among others. Underlying these behaviors and technological innovations are cognitive and cultural foundations that have been documented experimentally and ethnographically. Some of these human universal patterns are cumulative cultural adaptation, social norms, language, and extensive help and cooperation beyond close kin. It has been argued that the development of these modern behavioral traits, in combination with the climatic conditions of the Last Glacial Maximum causing genetic bottlenecks, was largely responsible for the human replacement of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and the other species of humans of the rest of the world.Arising from differences in the archaeological record, a debate continues as to whether anatomically modern humans were behaviorally modern as well. There are many theories on the evolution of behavioral modernity. These generally fall into two camps: gradualist and cognitive approaches. The Later Upper Paleolithic Model refers to the theory that modern human behavior arose through cognitive, genetic changes abruptly around 40,000–50,000 years ago. Other models focus on how modern human behavior may have arisen through gradual steps; the archaeological signatures of such behavior only appearing through demographic or subsistence-based changes.

Border Cave

Border Cave is a rock shelter on the western scarp of the Lebombo Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal near the border between South Africa and Swaziland. Border Cave has a remarkably continuous stratigraphic record of occupation spanning about 200 ka. Anatomically modern Homo sapiens skeletons together with stone tools and chipping debris were recovered. Dating by Carbon-14, amino acid racemisation and electron spin resonance places the oldest sedimentary ash at some 200 kiloannum.Excavations for guano in 1940 by a certain W. E. Barton of Swaziland, revealed a number of human bone fragments and were recognised as extremely old by Professor Raymond Dart, who had visited the site in July 1934, but had carried out only a superficial examination. In 1941 and 1942, a team sponsored by the University of the Witwatersrand carried out a more thorough survey. Subsequent excavations in the 1970s by Peter Beaumont were rewarded with rich yields. The site produced not only the complete skeleton of an infant, but also the remains of at least five adult hominins. Also recovered were more than 69,000 artifacts, and the remains of more than 43 mammal species, three of which are now extinct.Also recovered from the cave was the "Lebombo Bone", the oldest known artifact showing a counting tally. Dated to 35,000 years, it is a small piece of baboon fibula incised with 29 notches, similar to the calendar sticks used by the San of Namibia. Animal remains from the cave show that its early inhabitants had a diet of bushpig, warthog, zebra and buffalo. Raw materials used in the making of artifacts include chert, rhyolite, quartz, and chalcedony, as well as bone, wood and ostrich egg shells.

The west-facing cave, which is near Ingwavuma, is located about 100 m below the crest of the Lebombo range and commands sweeping views of the Swazi countryside below. It is semi-circular in horizontal section, some 40 m across, and formed in Jurassic lavas as a result of differential weathering.A set of tools almost identical to that used by the modern San people and dating to 44,000 BP were discovered at the cave in 2012. These represent the earliest unambiguous evidence for modern human behaviour.In 2015, the South African government submitted a proposal to add the cave to the list of World Heritage Sites and it has been placed on the UNESCO list of tentative sites as a potential future 'serial nomination' together with Blombos Cave, Pinnacle Point, Klasies River Caves, Sibudu Cave and Diepkloof Rock Shelter.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Howieson's Poort Shelter

Howieson’s Poort Shelter is a small rock shelter in South Africa containing the archaeological site from which the Howiesons Poort period in the Middle Stone Age gets its name. This period lasted around 5,000 years, between roughly 65,800 BP and 59,500 BP.

This period is important as it, together with the Stillbay period 7,000 years earlier, provides the first evidence of human symbolism and technological skills that were later to appear in the Upper Paleolithic.

Howiesons Poort

Howiesons Poort (also called HP) is a lithic technology cultural period in the Middle Stone Age in Africa named after the Howieson’s Poort Shelter archeological site near Grahamstown in South Africa. It seems to have lasted around 5,000 years between roughly 65,800 BP and 59,500 BP (Jacobs 2008).Humans of this period as in the earlier Stillbay cultural period showed signs of having used symbolism and having engaged in the cultural exchange of gifts.Howiesons Poort culture is characterized by tools that seemingly anticipate many of the characteristics, 'Running ahead of time', of those found in the Upper Palaeolithic period that started 25,000 years later around 40,000 BP. Howiesons Poort culture has been described as “both ‘modern’ and ‘non-modern’”.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Middle Stone Age

The Middle Stone Age (or MSA) was a period of African prehistory between the Early Stone Age and the Later Stone Age. It is generally considered to have begun around 280,000 years ago and ended around 50–25,000 years ago. The beginnings of particular MSA stone tools have their origins as far back as 550–500,000 years ago and as such some researchers consider this to be the beginnings of the MSA. The MSA is often mistakenly understood to be synonymous with the Middle Paleolithic of Europe, especially due to their roughly contemporaneous time span, however, the Middle Paleolithic of Europe represents an entirely different hominin population, Homo neanderthalensis, than the MSA of Africa, which did not have Neanderthal populations. Additionally, current archaeological research in Africa has yielded much evidence to suggest that modern human behavior and cognition was beginning to develop much earlier in Africa during the MSA than it was in Europe during the Middle Paleolithic. The MSA is associated with both anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) as well as archaic Homo sapiens, sometimes referred to as Homo helmei. Early physical evidence comes from the Gademotta Formation in Ethiopia, the Kapthurin Formation in Kenya and Kathu Pan in South Africa.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.


The Stillbay (also Still bay) industry is the name given by archaeologists A. J. H. Goodwin and C. van Riet Lowe in 1929 to a Middle Stone Age stone tool manufacturing style after the site of Stilbaai (also called Still Bay) in South Africa where it was first described. It may have developed from the earlier Acheulian types. In addition to Acheulian stone tools, bone and antler picks were also used.

Its start and end are calculated at 71.9 ka and 71.0 ka. At present, too few data exist to limit the 95% confidence intervals of these date to more than 4 to 5 ky. However, available data are consistent with a duration of less than 1 ky.Sampson in 1974 questioned its existence on the grounds that sites were not properly described and they lacked stratigraphic

integrity However, more recent work from sites such as Blombos Cave and Sibudu Cave attest to its existence.

It is broadly analogous to the Mousterian culture in Europe.

Olduvai Gorge has within its many ages of tools, some of the Stillbay variety.


Tongaat is a town in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, about 37 kilometres (23 mi) north of Durban and 28 kilometres (17 mi) south of Stanger. It now forms part of eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, or Greater Durban area. Its population is mostly people of Indian descent. The area is home to the oldest Indian community in South Africa, having been where the first indentured Indian laborers settled in 1860 to work in the sugar-cane plantations. Much of the architectural style in the town was the work of Ivan Mitford-Barberton, and many buildings are in the Cape Dutch style of architecture.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

Prehistoric cave sites, rock shelters and cave paintings
The Emergence of Modern Humans

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